They're Here! DoorDash Rolls Out Delivery Robots in Redwood City | NBC Bay Area
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They're Here! DoorDash Rolls Out Delivery Robots in Redwood City

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    A host of new "dashers" hit the streets this week after DoorDash partnered with Starship Technologies' new autonomous delivery robots. (Published Thursday, March 30, 2017)

    A new fleet of "dashers" hit Peninsula streets this week with DoorDash's introduction of delivery robots.

    The on-demand food delivery company was in talks last year with Starship Technologies after Redwood City approved a nine-month pilot program to monitor its autonomous delivery robots on city sidewalks. 

    "DoorDash is all about making deliveries faster and easier for customers," said Eitan Bencuya, a spokesman for DoorDash.

    Passersby have dubbed the seven robots modern yet "friendly" looking. Several people have even expressed the desire to name the machine.

    Starship Technologies said that design was intentional. The company chose a look they thought people would feel comfortable sharing the sidewalk with.

    "They’re really adorable. They’re really cute — almost like a pet," Bencuya said.

    In response to the robots' cute quotient, Bencuya said DoorDash will happily take suggestions from customers on names, but will just call them Starship robots for now.

    Regarding concerns of thefts, Starship officials said that no burglaries had been reported in its more than 10,000 miles logged in the United Kingdom and Germany. However, each robot comes equipped with security features to capture its surroundings and alert a nearby operator in case a problem arises.

    And, unlike drone delivery previously discussed by the Redwood City Council, the robots move at only 4 mph so they are less of a safety concern for residents, said the city's Economic Manager Catherine Ralston.

    How it works:

    1. Upon receiving an order, DoorDash says it will first use its existing algorithm to determine whether a delivery should be completed by bike, scooter, car or robot.
    2. While customers wait, they will receive an email that lets them know who — or what — their dasher will be.
    3. In the case of a robot delivery, a code will be sent allowing customers to both track the delivery and unlock their order when it arrives.

    For now, customers living within two miles of the downtown square, with orders that weigh less than 40 pounds, will be eligible to have them delivered by robot.

    However, Bencuya said DoorDash will be trying out a variety of ways to use the new tool in the coming months, such as for picking up orders from downtown restaurants.

    In this test phase, the company will experiment with robots collecting orders from restaurants and then droping off the food at a central location. Then a human dasher will collect the orders and complete the deliveries for customers who live further away.

    Bencuya said that because human dashers make less on downtown deliveries and pick-ups, he sees this as an opportunity to replace an undesired route for human dashers and serve as an overall complement to the existing order, rather than a replacement. 

    "First and foremost, DoorDash is a technology company and we're aways looking for more ways to be efficient," Bencuya said.

    Among the first cities in the United States to test this technology, Redwood City caught Starship's eye not only due to its proximity to Silicon Valley tech companies, but also its downtown residents' affinity for home delivery services.

    "This is something totally new for Redwood City," said Ralston. "We are a technology hub and we are willing to accept new technologies."

    Ralston said she hopes this move will help put Redwood City on the radar of more technology companies looking to pilot their products.

    Bencuya says the partnership is being implemented in Washington D.C. as well, as it is the only other city in the country piloting these self-driving delivery robots.

    Rebecca Greenway covers news on the San Francisco Peninsula. Connect with her on Facebook or send an email to rebecca.greenway@nbcuni.com.